Friday, April 21, 2017

Life in Algiers: Looking Back and Moving On

Easter Sunday in the DCM's garden
It is hard to believe that we are approaching the end of our 3-year posting in Algiers, Algeria. Next stop: a 2-year teaching gig for hubby at the Foreign Service Institute in the DC area.  This will be our first PCS state-side. Foreign Service folks know what this means: Transition mode has begun.  

In a desperate attempt to avoid overweight shipping fees, we have made a mountain in the guest room full of stuff that we’re leaving behind. Even the Christmas tree is going overboard. I’ve been baking up a storm and showing no restraint on using everything left in our pantry and spice rack. We are reviewing our check-lists so we don’t miss key deadlines (permission to sell car, paperwork to take our dog with us, etc.).  At the same time, it is starting to sink in just how much we’ll miss our life here.  When the final day comes, tears will be shed.

A couple years ago, I didn’t expect I’d be able to say that. Our first year in Algiers was rough—really rough.  All three of us were demoralized. Ten months in, it got to the point that we started talking curtailment. Other colleagues had already done so. Ultimately, what stopped us was the promise I had made to the Methodist congregation (and my bishop) here and my theostitious belief that God had placed us here for a task we had not yet completed. (that’s another story in itself)  

When hubby mentioned the ‘c’ word to front office, the response was “You haven’t taken a vacation since you arrived. Why don’t you take a long one and hopefully reconsider?” Although we’d already decided to stay, we jumped at the opportunity for a getaway and booked ourselves on the first cheap cruise we could find on and paired it with a church conference in Versailles (Did you know that Paris Disney tickets are a fraction of the cost for DisneyWorld?!). 

Then, things started to turn around. After the summer turn-over, the embassy became family-friendly. E got off the waitlist for a new preschool. We finally found an evening babysitter. We were moved into a new apartment building with great neighbors, so we now do things like help each other with grocery shopping, carpool, and keep an eye on each other’s kids. I got over my fear of driving in Algiers and learned my way around town. I joined an amazing gym and started making new friends.  Our choir started doing truly meaningful performances. The Algerian government began renovating its public parks and installing playground equipment. We found affordable dance and gymnastics studios for E. I stopped fearing getting PNGed and started leaning into my ministry at the church and outing myself as a pastor--even taking on a de facto chaplain role at the embassy (again, another story). We started taking more trips and discovering more of the beauty and history of the region. And that’s just a partial list. 

I’ve become so spoiled by our life here. Sure, living in a glass cage still gets annoying sometimes. (example: I had to Skype into a Methodist women’s retreat this week because it was being held in region off-limits to us)  But, in all honestly, I’ve been living the dream. From our balcony I can see the Atlas mountains in the distance.  Nora regularly knocks on our door with freshly-baked bread or hot borek as a gesture of friendship. Mahdia comes and cooks us up a pot or two of Algerian cuisine made with the fresh produce I pick up from the road side stand I stop at on the way home from preschool. When we travel, the vet comes to pick up our dog (who adores her) and looks after him for a token fee. I get to hang out with interesting people from all over the world. When we tell our daughter we are going to the ambassador’s house, she asks which one: the one with the playground or the one where we sing?  Not only that, she is getting free coaching from one of the best gymnasts in the country.  I get the honor and fun of serving a multinational multilingual congregation and getting to experiment with preaching and worship styles in ways most clergy can never dare try at their appointments. In short, I’m really going to miss this place.  

But here's the thing I've realized:  What I've loved most about our last year here is the 'normalcy' of it all.  I finally got what so many of my non-nomadic friends take for granted: a community of folks who look after each other. I got my own sit-com life--the kind where the neighbor kid walks through our front door without knocking.  I got to serve a congregation where the treasurer insists she doesn't want to be the lay leader (but, de facto, she clearly is), and where the hospitality committee serves tea and sweets after every service. 

Will we be able to build such a village at our next address? Only time will tell.   


  1. Don Chappell5:43 PM

    Don't be silly; of course you will (build another such village). It won't be the same village; but it'll be another great one. That's partly me being theostitious, and partly me being vastly more experienced. As Richard Bach writes: "Like attracts like", and you, Stuart and E. will continue to attract the people you like, those whose lessons you must learn, those who must learn from y'all. (But make no mistake about it; E. is your strongest asset; go with her first! ) -- Uncle Don

  2. Ah, thanks. And yes, E is indeed our strongest asset! :)

  3. I'm so happy you've found a sit-com life of your own in Algiers.

    I am, very selfishly, really looking forward to having you available for a recurring role in my sit-com life, though. :-)

    1. Selfishly, I'm hoping you and the girls come and crash at our place some weekends. I'm envisioning staycation backyard camping, vintage movie nights, fancy dinner party in p.j.s night (cause if you've got the fancy dishes, you might as well use them), etc. I especially want the girls coming around to serve as excellent role models for E. ;)